Heavy casualties have been reported in the ongoing clashes between the Ethiopian army and troops loyal to the ruling party of the resilient northern Tigray province.
At least six people were killed and 60 injured and at one site alone along the Tigray border, on Saturday, a health official said nearly 100 government soldiers had been treated for gunshot wounds at a hospital in northern Amhara.
The Ethiopian Prime Minister and last year̵7;s Nobel Peace Prize winner, Abiy Ahmed, sent federal troops and planes to Tigray on Wednesday during a massive escalation of enduring feud.
The skirmishes have brought Africa’s second most populous nation to the brink of what analysts say could be a long and bloody civil war.
Abiy and military leaders greeted the success of Ethiopian soldiers, but the outage of communication in the area made it difficult for their accounts to verify. Both sides have access to heavy weapons, armor, and a substantial ammunition inventory.
Abiy also replaced his army commander on Sunday and appointed his deputy, Berhanu Jula, in charge of the Ethiopian National Defense Force. The move is part of a broader reform that appears to put Tigray’s most powerful supporters at the forefront.
Ambulances were frequently seen carrying wounded fighters to hospitals on roads north of Amhara, and there were witnesses reporting funerals to militiamen.
“We’ve got 98 cases. They are all soldiers of the national army, ”said a doctor in the town of Sanja who did not name.
He said there were no deaths at the hospital, but more serious cases have been referred to larger hospitals in Gondar City and elsewhere.
Reports of dead and wounded soldiers have emerged in recent days in Amhara, where a humanitarian aid worker said three people were dead and 35 were treated on Saturday. Five people were killed and 105 were injured on Friday.
The nations of the region fear the fighting could spark an all-out civil war and destabilize the Horn of Africa, one of the continent’s most fragile regions.
The United Nations has warned of a major humanitarian crisis if up to 9 million people flee from total fighting or the Tigray is largely cut off from the world.
In a televised speech on Sunday, Abiy accused Tigray’s regional leaders of preparing for war with the federal government from 2018. The group has been drawing development funds to buy weapons and militia training, he said.
A senior general told a state-run newspaper that some locations in Tigray were now under federal military control. “The army destroyed all heavy weapons controlled by the ungodly group. It’s moving forward now, ”he said.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front dominated Ethiopia in politics for almost three decades before Abiy took power in 2018 following anti-government protests. Now it only controls its home province.
Tigray’s leaders have complained of being unjustly targeted in corruption prosecutions, being removed from top positions and as scapegoat for the country’s woes under Abiy.
The lasting feud became more strained after Tigray held its own elections in September despite Abiy’s government, which decided to postpone national polls because of the coronavirus pandemic.
MPs voted on Saturday to suspend Tigray’s leaders and set up a caregiver regulator in the province.
In the capital, Addis Ababa, the mayor announced on Sunday that 10 senior Tigray city officials have been arrested, accused of “betraying the people” and working “destabilizing peace in the city. and participate in the motives of terror and cruelty ”.
But in a Twitter post on Sunday, Abiy urged Ethiopians to avoid discrimination against the Tigrayans, who make up about 6% of the country’s 110 million population. “I want to reiterate that no Tigrayan brothers / sisters should be victims of illegal acts based on their identity and that this responsibility belongs to all Ethiopians,” he said.
The Ethiopian authorities have yet to formally respond to a request for dialogue from the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres.